An evening of shorter works by the Chineke! Orchestra provided a varied and exciting programme from Baroque works by Handel to a world première of The Spark Catchers by upcoming UK composer Hannah Kendall. Only two years old, the Chineke! Orchestra do not give the impression of being newly formed, yet give a younger and newer perspective on more traditional repertoire.

Jeanine De Bique with Chineke! and Kevin John Edusei © BBC | Mark Allan
Jeanine De Bique with Chineke! and Kevin John Edusei
© BBC | Mark Allan

As a Proms debut artist, Jeanine De Bique is the name to remember from this Late Night Prom. The Trinidadian soprano had an electric onstage presence from the moment she started bobbing along to the opening of “Da tempesta” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare with a great big grin. De Bique’s voice was soft but powerful, careful in its release of notes to a confident vibrato. As an expressive singer, she understood where to release and where to hold suspense. A particularly memorable moment of De Bique’s performance was in Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ Au penchant qui nous entraîne, in which the suspension in her voice on the phrase “et si je puis guérir” (“but if I can be healed”) created a stillness in the hall in its raw emotion. De Bique had an elegance to her voice that coupled well with her personality and sentiment in the songs. Her final performance of the evening was “Rejoice Greatly” from Handel’s Messiah often overindulged in coloratura and sung too slowly, De Bique’s rendition was fresh and light, glossing effortlessly over complex scales.

Young Musician of the Year Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the other star of the evening, gave an engaging performance of two pieces. He played Dvořák’s Rondo in G minor, which was slightly reserved initially, with a lighter touch on the bow. He warmed up as he progressed towards the end of the piece into Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody which followed. His bowing was noticeably more confident and the intricacy of his playing evident in the very technical solo passages. The Hungarian Rhapsody was a great demonstration of his talent, spanning the range of the cello and control of tempi as a soloist with an orchestra.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason with Chineke! and Kevin John Edusei © BBC | Mark Allan
Sheku Kanneh-Mason with Chineke! and Kevin John Edusei
© BBC | Mark Allan

Kendall’s The Spark Catchers did not capture as much imagination or emotion as expected. Perhaps this was the fault of the detailed programme note relating to the inspiration of Lemn Sissay’s poem of the same name. With the opening section being titled Sparks and Strikes there was a certain expectation upon reading pre-show of higher impact music with sharper points that never really occurred or evolved. The Chineke! Orchestra rose to some more beautiful melodic fragments in the Beneath the Stars/In the Silver Sheen section where the glockenspiel had a moment in the foreground over the strings. Clutching at these little moments, the work just didn’t compare to the rest of the engaging programme and left a craving for climax that was satisfyingly answered in the final Capriccio espagnol.

The surprise piece of the night was American composer George Walker’s Lyric for Strings in its first performance at the Proms. This was easily the Chineke! Orchestra’s highlight performance of the evening despite a ravishingly bold rendition of the Rimsky-Korsakov. Walker’s piece was delicate and rich with sweeping romantic strings that echo the classical Hollywood film era. Conducted by BBC Proms Debut artist, the vibrant Kevin John Edusei, the Chineke! Orchestra built up to the big romantic flourishes and releases, not in an over-the-top way as can sometimes happen with Hollywood-style music, but with a cunning way of holding moments just a little bit longer, leaving anticipation before releasing into sumptuous harmonies with the whole of the string section of the orchestra moving as one single harmonised voice.

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